UCF board takes first look at new discipline policy

By JP Phillips, Staff Writer, The Times

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The Monday night meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board held at Unionville Elementary included routine voting items and the official “first read” of the District’s redesigned discipline policy.  This policy was reworked extensively over the summer and could be voted on as soon as next month.

Recent UHS graduate and former Board Student Representative Gavin Brezski used the opening public comments portion to disagree with the proposed policy’s rescission clause.  He cautioned of a potential disconnect between the Board’s intention and the students’ perception of the policy.

“I think that having the rescission policy in place makes students feel more comfortable about committing wrongdoings.  It enables the belief that having a fail-safe in their back pocket guarantees them a second chance.”  He also thought that it could unintentionally create a divide between the High School Administration, District Administration and parents.  Should the District Administration grant a rescission, it could be interpreted that the suspension was wrongly given by the High School team in the first place.

Referring to the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Brezski closed with this thought: “I think that if recent politics has taught us anything, it’s that actions in high school do matter and can affect our lives twenty, thirty, forty years down the road.  Instead of giving students a way to misstep, we should be finding ways to promote positive educational behavior so that we don’t have one of those missteps in the first place. “

Board President Jeff Hellrung used his closing comments to promote the proposed changes to the policy.

“I was a person who participated on the committee with about thirty others including three students, many of our staff administrators and parents—a very good cross section of our community.

For me, the high points of the recommended policy that we just had for first reading tonight was first– focus on safety and security, second–the call for mutual respect between staff and students, third– there is a rightful focus on student rights, but also on responsibilities.”

Hellrung then touted the flexibility and restorative justice aspects of the policy.

“Next there is an opportunity for both shorter and possibly fewer suspensions. And in place of those suspensions, which often carry some significant unintended consequences–especially in the lack of academic time–in place of that we are going to give students the opportunity for some educational opportunities.  We are going to give administrators more flexibility in determining an appropriate consequence to behavioral infractions that will help the student learn from the experience and  reemerge stronger and better from the experience.”

Hellrung also addressed the split view regarding allowing students to apply for a rescission for a first offense.

“And finally, there were some significant improvements that came from the committee to the rescission policy.  We are going to go with rescission at least until year end.”  He explained, “We also have a commitment from Administration to assess the effect of this rescission policy at the end of year one and come back to the Board with a summary of what our experience has been.  Of course, the intention is to have it be a positive thing that gives students a second chance and that doesn’t have any unintended negative consequences, such as communicating that students have one freebee.

“And finally, I’ll point out that probably the biggest change is we’re mandating some educational counseling and experiences for students who have committed alcohol and drug related offenses.  So whereas our past practice has been an automatic ten-day out-of-school suspension, our new practice will likely result in shorter suspensions and other consequences that will help the students learn from their experience. “  Hellrung then added, “And I would just like to say to those who are opposed to that, who think that that should be a matter between parent and child, it is a matter of parent and child at home.  But the minute that behavior takes place in school or at a school event, it becomes our problem as well.  And we are going to do the best we can to give appropriate consequences to turn that into a learning experience for the child in accordance with our purpose of developing students that are going to be successful in life and contribute to society (as per the District’s mission statement).”

In other news, Unionville Elementary principal Michelle Lafferty and staff honored fourth grade student Emma Yardley for exemplifying the “UE Way—Be Safe, Be Open, and Be Present.”  A key component is showing empathy.  To support a UE teacher’s daughter who had a life-changing surgery, Emma took it upon herself to raise money for a children’s charity in the girl’s name.

Lafferty also led an exercise to show the Board members and audience how UCF is incorporating educational strategies learned from the Franklin Institute’s partnership with the District for staff professional development.  A key takeaway is that involving student emotions (whether frustration, excitement, or joy) will help increase the meaning and memory of a lesson.

Board Student Representative Winnie Elvin reported on a High School assembly that featured the Sandy Hook Promise’s “say something” reporting system, where students can anonymously report on unsafe situations.  A similar state-wide program will be officially rolled out in January.  The assembly also instructed students on how to react in the event of an intruder at the school.

There were many items unanimously approved by the Board, including a Spanish club field trip to Costa Rica, the High School Indoor Drumline field trip to Dayton in April, the 2019-2022 District Comprehensive Plan, a new economics textbook, and five policies.  $1.6 million will be transferred to capital funds.  As these items were fully explained and discussed at previous work sessions, all votes occurred without comment and discussion.

Next Up:  Curriculum and Instruction meeting at 4:30, and the Work Session at 7:30 on November 12th in room 14 at the District Office, adjacent to the High School.

They are both open to the public.  Additionally, they are broadcasted live (and archived) on the UCFSD web site.

Board documents:  http://www.boarddocs.com/pa/uncf/Board.nsf/public

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